In which Theric takes [minor] issue with a review in the Deseret News


I hope you’ve all seen this delightfully miscontstruing review of Jennifer Quist’s Love Letters of the Angels of Death. Generally, I’m happy to let wrongheadedness do its own thing, but a couple points seem to demand rebuttal and Deseret News hasn’t written back regarding my kind offer to do so in their pages.

[Quote one] In “Love Letters of the Angels of Death,” Jennifer Quist tries her hand at an unusual writing style—sort of a first person, multiple voices style that is at best, confusing and at worst, quite frustrating. . . . In every case there is a sense of loss, anger and distance from the actual pain. It’s like approaching the situation with a 10-foot pole in hand.

Now, far be it from me from knocking a newswriter from whipping out a tried-and-true classic cliche (I was a newspaperman once—it’s cool—it’s part of our tradition), but I do think it’s important that I take a moment to present a bit of skepticism that essentially eavesdropping upon (one solitary speaker who is part of) an intimate conversation between a husband and wife as they discuss important, personal topics is anything like “approaching the situation with a 10-foot pole.” I should get real here and admit I don’t eavesdrop upon other couples’ intimate conversations as often as I would like, but I’ve never spied upon such personal moments and thought people were too far away, if you know what I mean. I mean—I guess I shouldn’t just start judging other people “confusion” or “frustration” (and undoubtedly intimacy can be poorly done), but I just can’t see how this novel’s point of view is anything like a 10-foot pole.

But I suppose you had a tight word count and couldn’t provide any examples of the novel’s tenfootpoleness. Newspapers, amirite?

[Quote two] This is clearly not a book about death from the perspective of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which the author is a member. . . . There’s not much about eternal life or hope or even faith in God.

This bit I actually find rather disturbing. Now, I’m sure reviewer Sharon Haddock is a lovely person, but how does that give her permission to unilaterally define “the perspective of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”? (Although, clearly, the word “clearly” is the most egregious bit of hubris here.) As far as I can tell from Buzzfeed personality quizzes, I’m an active Mormon with almost forty years of experience in two nations (and three states in my current one, including Utah, yall). And while, granted, I haven’t worked seventeen years for the Deseret News, I do think I have sufficient LDS ethos when I blurble in confusion a bit and say what the heckerino do you mean there’s not much about eternal life or hope or even faith in God in Love Letters? That is, I know you were “confused,” but how did you miss all the stuff about eternal life and hope and even faith in God? Do you need it in neon before you recognize it?

Sorry. That was rude. I certainly don’t want to come off like, I don’t know, I get to define the perspective of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or am the sole proprietor of literary exegesis or anything like that. Can you imagine?

At this point, Theric was going to make a point, but then the Obvious Fairy paid him a visit and said it would be insulting to his readers if he kept talking even one paragraph longer..

25 thoughts on “In which Theric takes [minor] issue with a review in the Deseret News”

  1. .

    Regarding complaint the first: Sometimes I feel like much of the Church is composed of those critics who just do not get Wes Anderson and think people who like his films are emperor’s-new-clothes-seeing hipsters and refuse to believe that, actually, I might find Anderson’s films genuinely beautiful and funny and moving. It’s okay to have differences of opinion (you probably like Tarantino), but please don’t tell me I’m deluded for my tastes.

    Regarding complaint the second: This is a type of cultural hegemony that I really don’t think has place in the body of the Saints. Perhaps it was not intended as a public shaming, but it’s hard to read it any other way.

  2. .

    Not to keep commenting on my own post, but Andrew Hall made a fair point elsewhere about this review:

    While I did not agree with the review at all, the reviewer, Sharron Haddock, is about the only one there who says anything substantial about the work she is reviewing. At least she gives an opinion. Almost all of the rest are just plot summaries, parental content warnings, and maybe a word or two like “exciting”.

    This is true.

  3. Th, I feel a point in your post somewhere, but I don’t see it. Sorry to say that you do the exact same thing that you accuse Sharron Haddock of doing; leaving out examples from the novel. This is, I’m afraid, where reader response might come in more than objective facts, unless there are some facts presented. I expected a rebuttal rather than reprimand.

  4. .

    Not yet—the local theater has lines around the block still. Soon though.

    I made the Anderson connection last night after posting this as I read the befuddled review in The New Yorker.

  5. .

    It occurs to me that someone stopping by for the first time might miss the historical nuances of my play with Jettboy. So to address his response better, let me point out that regarding the first complaint I make, I’ve written about this novel before (1, 2).

    My second complaint, methinks, requires me to say nothing else.

  6. Big, chaste hug, Th. Even in Canada everyone has a long time family friend who used to serve as an Area Authority Seventy or something. Mine is also a fan of my novel. He didn’t agree with the DN review either and I’m getting a lot of emotional mileage out of that. Doesn’t do a thing for the press, unfortunately.

  7. Can we still be friends if I tell you I don’t like Wes Anderson movies? I always feel tragically unhip when I admit that…

    I think this review is actually really valuable, if only for purposes of starting a dialogue. Could the review have been different if the reviewer did not the author was Mormon and that the book was a finalist for a Whitney award? Obviously her expectations for what is “Mormon literature” and how LDS authors should write are different from the majority of us who write and comment here on this site. As I mentioned over at AML a month or so ago when the finalists were announced, sometimes I worry that the dominance of publishers like Covenant and DB mean a certain style of writing has come to be seen as conventional for Mormon literature, and I think this review is a good example of what happens when books that don’t follow this conventional pattern get read by someone expecting that type of thing.

  8. DISCLAIMER: Haven’t read the book, but since it’s The Other Review being written about, I’ll dip my toe in the water.

    People bring their own baggage to reading. The reviewer, Sharon Haddock, seemed to be reading from a place of what she wanted the book to be as opposed to what the book was.

    To which I always say, “Write your own damn book.”

  9. Also, I like Tarantino muchly. He does female empowerment right. (Unlike some poseurs I could name.)

    Also, Kevin Smith’s DOGMA was a particularly faith-affirming/enhancing movie for me.

  10. .

    I love Dogma. And I have never really given Tarantino a fair chance.

    Jessie’s point is pretty great—although I don’t know if we’re actually starting a dialogue. It seems more like there are groups in separate rooms talking about those people in the other room. I would love to get Haddock here.

    And I’ll be reviewing some of those Covenant/DB books soon. We’ll see if any dialogue comes from it…..

  11. Update: Deseret News has revised the review and taken out the line about “not the perspective of the Church…” Thanks to everyone who said anything publicly to oppose a book reviewer making unqualified statements in a church-owned publication about what is and is not properly LDS.

  12. Th, pointing that out IN the article might have helped. Yet, my criticism of your blog post still stands because of the new argument made here. You wouldn’t have to quote the book, but examples from the story that resonate for you opposite the reviewer. Not that you have to do so on my account. Its just good policy for a strong rebuttal.

    “And I’ll be reviewing some of those Covenant/DB books soon.” Despite my criticism of your criticism of this non-Deseret Book book review, I feel for you here. My opinion of them makes Jennifer Quist’s of this book look neutral.

  13. .

    I did in fact link to my other post, but I’ll spot you that one. Also, swinging by once every great while without knowing the state of the conversation helps. But—as I know because I’ve read before that post you just linked to—I have a bit more ethos on this subject than you do because I do in fact read Mormon fiction and you do not. So there’s that as well.

    One other thing you might consider is that my argument was much more about Haddock’s rhetoric than about its content. But I know that’s the sort of nuance that often doesn’t work for you.

  14. Crud buckets. Sorry, I am not as eloquent about these things, because this has happened a bit to me as well, though not in so public a place as the Deseret News. People will believe what they want and judge how they want… As writers, we put ourselves out there for that express purpose and it does not always work out the way we wish for it to. I just had a pretty painful experience where somebody was offended because they thought I wrote my book about *them.* I fully expect that, for the rest of my life, there will be at least one person offended by every book I write.

    I am glad that they retracted that particular line. It is funny how some people think that they have the entire gospel in their pocket.

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